It’s that time of year when, if you’re separated parents, you have shared summer holidays looming. For any parent, the long holiday requires some careful thought and preparation, but for separated and often working parents, there are additional hurdles to navigate. Our summer survival guide for separated parents will take the sting out of summer and keep your co-parenting relationship on track into the new term.
I don’t just mean a few weeks in advance (although this is a good approach!) I mean well in advance by completing a parenting plan. There are lots of decisions to make bringing up kids and its harder when you don’t live together. A parenting-plan (PP) is a written document (or digital agreement in the case of our app) that sets out how you’ll look after your kids as separated parents. Typically, a Parenting Plan will cover:
If you’ve made an agreement together and covered the basic principles of how you’ll co-parent you will take the heat out of holiday arrangements. Most parents review arrangements and make amends each year as the kids’ needs change, agreeing one from the offset will give you both a starting point or even detailed arrangements to work with. You can complete a Parenting Plan on our app.
Sometimes this is only hard the first time you do it – sometimes it’s always a flash-point in the co-parenting annual calendar. One of the most important lessons I’ve learnt over the years of helping people, is that if both parents are in the right mind-set then even tricky logistical situations can be overcome. Things usually become difficult when something else is wrong or going on beneath the surface. So before you start your summer holiday planning give yourself a quick emotional health check. Are there burning issues that are just waiting for any slight provocation to come bursting out? If there are, try to work through these before talking about the summer holidays.
The worst conflicts I have seen happen are when one parent is determined to believe they are being ‘dictated to’ by the other. Of course this sometimes happens, but it is less often the case and more often the perception that one parent is taking a dictatorial stance. If you recognise these feelings its usually a sign of unfinished separation business and it can be worth speaking to a divorce coach or working through these feelings yourself.
It’s important to be mindful of your own and your co-parent’s feelings. A summer holiday away with the other parent might be the first time you have been without the kids for a long period of time. It might be the first time one parent has effectively had sole charge of the kids. Therefore, it’s natural to feel anxious. It can be hard for some parents to let go and not have charge of the kids’ schedules – especially if that has been their role in the past. But time away from your kids is also an opportunity and something to embrace, to have some time for just you.
There two types of holiday arrangement; ‘going away’ holidays and, ‘childcare’ during the summer holidays. Start with the going away arrangements. Who is going where and when? Give yourself plenty of time to plan and to take advantage of cheaper prices. Suggest what you’d like to do – don’t dictate and don’t book without speaking to the other parent – strike a balance. You’re not inviting your co-parent to veto your arrangements but equally you are not doing what you want without discussion. It’s quite a fine line so many parents find it easier to make arrangements in writing. The amicable divorce app has pre-populated options you can tailor to your family and text to your co-parent to help make these arrangements neutrally and quickly. It can also be helpful to have a record of your conversation if things become unclear.
Ensure that both of you have information to feel comfortable about the holiday your children are going on. After all, you both have parental responsibility irrespective of who they live with most of the time. So, expect to tell the other parent travel and accommodation details and who else is going to be on the holiday. If you’re going to be doing risky activities (things your travel insurance company charges extra or lists) discuss these before you go. Be aware some countries require the other parent’s written consent as well as a passport to enter if you are traveling alone with children so check with your travel agent or the passport office what is required.
Try not to get caught up in ‘holiday top trumps’. You don’t need to spend a fortune to create a great summer time treat. If your ‘away-with-the-kids’ time is a staycation, then be creative – 20 minutes googling summer activities with kids will produce a great bucket list! Here’s a start: Bucket List And if all else fails get your kids to earn a Blue Peter badges and you can visit all these attractions for free.
Its normal to want to spend time away with the kids and once kids reach school age this usually isn’t an issue. It can be harder for younger children to spend long periods of time away from a main carer (if there is one) and so frequent shorter breaks may be more appropriate. For very young or nursed infants, days out might be more appropriate. Older kids will probably need and want to be consulted about holiday arrangements so it’s best to get their views and work those into the arrangements you make together as parents. Remember to agree things with your ex-partner before confirming arrangements with your kids.
Kids may want and need to speak to the other parent whilst away so build in a plan for how and when the kids will phone or skype the other parent, especially if they aren’t used to being away from that parent. Demonstrate to the kids that you understand rather than telling them they’ll be home soon etc. Remember not to take things personally. If you usually see your kids on weekends and they are going away for a week they may not need to call you even if they called the other parent – they don’t love you any less.
Many parents have agreements in place to split the holiday care of their kids. If your kids are at school this means covering a minimum of 6-7 weeks each over the year. Many working parents therefore have to make alternative arrangements like unpaid leave, grandparents or summer-camps. There are lots of different approaches depending on the strength and quality of your co-parenting relationship. Ultimately, if you have agreed to half the holiday-care you are responsible for organising and paying for it irrespective of where the children usually live. However, if one of you has a better network, more willing parents, or better kids-camps then think about what the kids would want and don’t become over-focused on dividing things exactly. Try to remain flexible because that way your kids get the best deal. Most importantly of all, agree in advance who is responsible for investigating/signing up for the camps and how you are splitting the costs.
If your kids are older, agree a common set of ground rules to govern activities and how much time children of different ages can spend home-alone. There are no hard and fast rules or laws about this but the NSPCC has guidance here.
The summer holidays are a great chance to ditch the routine and kick back for a bit. Most kids these days need the downtime the summer offers and appreciate the change of routine. Whatever your co-parenting relationship, we know organising holiday time can be especially tough. The amicable app can help take the sting out of summer negotiations with its pre-formatted suggestions and text communication.